Why an emergency declaration is the only way to stop more Covid-19 spikes

(Malaysia Now) – Ever since news emerged that the government is pushing for an emergency declaration to combat Covid-19, critics have understandably been up in arms over the idea.

Their reservations is not without basis. “Emergency” carries with it connotations of military rule, tanks rolling in the streets, suspension of civil rights and dictatorial rule. These run counter to our liberal democratic system and the values to which we are so accustomed.

Opposition leaders have derided the idea as disproportionate to the unprecedented health crisis the country is facing. They point out that the National Security Council has wide-ranging powers to curb the spread of the pandemic, such as through lockdown orders or by beefing up security at borders.

But none has offered any practical solution to overcoming the major reason for the spike in cases we see today: the holding of elections. The recently-concluded Sabah election was instrumental in the heightened infectivity nationwide.

Poor adherence to Covid-19 SOPs during the polls made the situation worse with even the state’s chief minister, Hajiji Noor, not spared from catching the deadly virus.

As of Oct 24, there were 11,285 positive cases in Sabah, almost three times the number of cases in Selangor (3,880), the second highest state. As of now, some two dozen clusters have been reported outside Sabah which are linked to travellers from the state.

The numbers are staggering. On Oct 24, we broke the four-digit new cases threshold with 1,228 cases reported, while a day earlier, the country saw the highest ever number of deaths reported in a single day.

Ordinarily, it would have been unnecessary to resort to an emergency declaration to curb the spread of Covid-19. There are enough laws, whether to impose strict lockdowns or act against Covid-19-infected undocumented migrants attempting to sneak into the country.

But for all the instruments the government has at its disposal, there is one thing it is powerless to do: stop elections, which have proven to be a major reason for the exponential rise in cases over the past month.

A by-election is scheduled for Dec 5 in Batu Sapi, Sabah – the epicentre of Covid-19 cases in Malaysia. Are Sabahans and Malaysians in general willing to see more Covid-19-related deaths and misery?

In next-door Sarawak, statewide polls are said to be in the pipeline as the ruling Gabungan Parti Sarawak is reportedly keen to take advantage of Covid-19 travel and campaigning restrictions to retain power. Haven’t we learnt enough from the Sabah experience?

More frightening is the prospect of a snap general election. With PM Muhyiddin Yassin’s government hanging by a thread in the Dewan Rakyat, there’s already talk of voting down the 2021 Budget, scheduled to be tabled on Nov 6.

If that happens, Muhyiddin’s Cabinet is legally required to resign, paving the way for a snap general election despite the legislature having some three years to go until the expiry of its current term.

The law clearly states that the polls mentioned above must be carried out, come what may. The Election Commission does not have a choice…. unless an emergency is declared.

Under an emergency – and our latest Covid-19 figures clearly show that we are in one – all legislatures are suspended. Without the sword of Damocles hanging over the government’s head, it would be able to push through Covid-19 measures without being hobbled by political considerations.

Just to cite an example, a defeated Budget 2021 in the Dewan Rakyat means the government would not be able to allocate funds, whether to purchase medical personal protective equipments or Covid-19 test kits, not to mention to pay the salaries of not just the frontliners, but also all other federal civil servants. A prorogued Parliament allows the above to be carried out during this critical time.

In closing, it’d be good to refresh our minds on what democracy is all about. The system of governance of the people, by the people, for the people ultimately aims to bring better lives for the people who live in it.

If the system brings harm due to the selfish intent of a few, then it’d be better to introduce a circuit-breaker to the system. Tweak it until some semblance of normalcy returns so as to preserve public health while saving lives and livelihoods.